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Herostratus and Don Levy Shorts [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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A young poet wishing to take his own life soon finds events have overtaken him in this experimental 1960s drama from director Don Levy. Disillusioned poet Max (Michael Gothard) decides to commit suicide, but rather than making it a quiet affair, Max contacts the local media so that, he hopes, his name will live on. On the appointed day, however, Max suddenly has a change of heart, but with an eagerly expectant media in attendance, he finds that he is no longer in control of events.
When Max, a young poet (played by the iconic Michael Gothard) hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle, he finds that his subversive intentions are quickly diluted into a reactionary gesture, and his motivations are revealed as a desperate attempt to seek attention through celebrity.
Unseen since its limited release in 1967, this audacious and prescient - yet criminally overlooked - work by experimental filmmaker Don Levy left a profound mark on the landscape of late-1960s British cinema, with echoes of its visual style evident in the more celebrated work of such notable directors as Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and Michael Winner.
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There are some good sequences of 60s collages, and some interesting b/w archival footage, but not enough to get the audience through the whole ordeal.
At 2:15:30 the final scene shows the female lead doing exactly what I felt like doing by the end!
The flat trashing and a few other sequences are like passages from some genuine lost classic, one that could take its place alongside Performance and Easy Rider while actually looking more modern than either of them. I love, especially, the non-narrative shots of Max violently shaking his head and body, creating Francis Baconesque blurry disfigurements. The effect is both visually extraordinary and so simple you wonder why no one else in film history seems to have thought of it. I also think it's fascinating that both this film and Performance reference Bacon - and this one does it better.
Sadly, the lost classic status is undermined by some out-and-out badness: frequent, tediously repetitive resorts to standard-issue film-school artiness (the cover's dominatrix, prancing around King's Cross with an umbrella for no reason, passages of hum-drum psychedelia) and a script that is an amateurish muddle. In particular, it seems unsophisticated in its assumption that the advertising industry would want to co-opt the protagonist's suicide to defend high flown moral values, as if capitalism wouldn't happily sacrifice religion, traditional morality and the family unit to keep on flogging product -- a 60s counter-culture assumption that the most astute commentators recognised as fallacious even at the time. Or, if you like, a bit of hippy naivety putting the fly in the ointment of all that proto-punk nihilism.
HEROSTRATUS is a very interesting movie, but one that I find hard to recommend, since is not for all tastes. Main reasons:
-It's one of the most pessimistic movies I've ever watched.
-It's hard to have some kind of care (ironically) for the main character. That changes in the third act (I'm single-handedly dividing the story in 3 more or less identifiable parts) but by then it might be too late for some.
-Although the story is not strictly linear, by the end you may be able to put everything together (more or less). But meanwhile, you will be invaded with brief but numerous intercuts of scenes that sometimes represent a part of the story that is going to happen later or already happened, representations of thoughts or dreams, documentary material that at first seem to be completely unrelated to the story or unnecessary, etc. Around ten minutes before the first hour mark, and for periods that last some minutes, that documentary material goes on and on, and it may become too distracting or boring for mainstream audiences.
The funny thing is that some sequences of intercuts look like musical videos, but obviously made long before this format was formally conceived.
If you are into original movies, and think you can stand these issues, then you're in for a rewarding cinematic experience.
One thing is for sure: although the movie is not structured conventionally, its intention is not to throw an abstract idea or ideas subjected to the interpretation of the spectator. As revealed in an interview with the director (included as a bonus), his intention is to give a direct message, and try to transmit to the spectators the feelings of the main character, and make them a part of the whole process. Obviously, the director had a pessimistic view of the society, and wanted to nail it to as many persons as possible.
Two things impressed me the most:
a)If there's only one good reason to watch this movie, it's the superb acting from the main 3 actors, but specially from Michael Gothard. How he didn't have a good acting career with that impressive show, will remain forever a mystery.
The appeal of the acting goes beyond. It's evident how behind the performances there was a controlling director trying to get the best results he could get out of them, in order to represent his ideas. The reactions are natural, and very convincing when pain, anger and frustration are expressed. And one can't help but be amazed, once you know that all the people involved worked almost for free, just for the love of the project. This kind of dedication and its results are pure art.
The camera sometimes functions like if it's inside an actor's studio, filming a rehearsal. It's part of the "experimental" feeling that the movie has in some instances (in other instances there are fantastic camera shots and composition of scenes that also show great mastery of the medium). There are two major scenes, with the participation of the three main actors, that could have easily been filmed in a stage performance in a theater. And in direct contrast with the fast intercuts presented in some parts of the movie, in other occasions the camera remains fixed on an actor, while he/she's having a conversation. This technique allows us to appreciate even better the work of the actors, their expressions and reactions
b) This is the first time this movie has been released commercially. This fate is unfair, taking into account what Amnon Buchbinder writes in the first essay that comes in the included booklet: "Herostratus must certainly rank among the most influential of unknown films".
Free from any prejudice that this statement may create (since I didn't read it beforehand) I only have to agree. There's no way somebody can watch Herostratus and not be reminded of movies like Stanley Kubrick's "A clockwork orange" or Alan Parker's The Wall. In the case of the former, at least in one more way than just visual or conceptual: There's a scene in which the main character Max is eating a breakfast served by Farson. It's at this moment (if not before) that it becomes clear that his expressions and his manners, must have been a direct influence on Malcom McDowell's Alex. And of course, without movies like Herostratus, directors like David Lynch would have never existed.
BLU RAY PICTURE QUALITY: Amazing, for a movie this old. But enemies of the grain, beware: there are lots of it, since (thankfully) the restoration didn't include the hateful noise reduction, which allows the movie to retain a very cinematic look, full of detail.
In this regard, one thing is important: disc 2, as an extra, includes the movie in its original aspect ratio of 1.33.1, what is normally called "full frame". The main feature in disc one is 1.78.1, intended to fill the whole widescreen tv set. The explanation for this is that although the movie was filmed in a different aspect ratio, it was intended (by the director) to be showed in widescreen, so instructions were given to project it that way.
So, if you watch disc one, you are watching the movie as it's supposed to be watched, except that since it was filmed differently, it had to be zoomed in. In this way, some issues completely natural for a movie this old, and less noticeable in the original full frame transfer, become more evident in the widescreen presentation, namely the normal grain of the movie and heavy noise in dark scenes. So, unless you think you're not going to be distracted by these things, go ahead and watch the movie in disc one. But I highly recommend to watch it in its original aspect ratio.
And I also recommend this: watch the movie, and then hear the 38 minutes interview with the director. It will enhance your appreciation and understanding of the movie, and probably will make you want to watch it again as soon as possible.
Finally, I must add that the blu-ray is REGION FREE.
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